Volvo XC90 SUV (2019 - ) review

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The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.5

A stylish, understated large SUV that’s beautifully built, has space for seven, is packed with clever technology, and is even affordable to run. The XC90 majors on ride comfort, refinement and safety, and can take you and the whole family a long way in total comfort. It comes highly equipped, too, with a sumptuous cabin that sets new class standards for design. A fabulous all-rounder that’s highly recommended.

Pros

  • Hugely practical
  • Very well equipped
  • Luxurious interior

Cons

  • Automatic gearbox can be slow to react
  • Four-cylinder engines only
  • Air suspension is a pricey option

Interested in buying a Volvo XC90?

How good does it look? 5/5

Few large SUVs offer buyers the ability to express their individuality quite like the XC90. For starters, each trim (Momentum, R-Design and Inscription) gets a bespoke grille and front end treatment, with the sportiest versions getting even more embellishments to give this Volvo a bit more purpose. The eye-catching full LED headlights are standard on all versions, and the smallest wheels you can choose are 19 inches across, rising to 21 inches on top-spec cars and 22 inches if you resort to the options list. Despite its considerable size, though, the XC90 manages not to look too brash or imposing.

What's the interior like? 4/5

All the materials in the XC90 look and feel expensive, and high-quality. The leather covering the dashboard and centre console is soft and beautifully stitched, the main dials are digital, and can be changed to suit your own individual taste. The switches look great, with textured metal surfaces and a pleasingly chunky, robust feel. The only slight note of criticism is that, as good as the XC90 is, the interior of the (newer) Audi Q7 feels even better when it comes to that final level of solidity.

There are only eight buttons on the dashboard – including one to open the glovebox – so the cabin is kept impressively free from clutter. The driver’s seat has standard six-way electric adjustment, plus extending thigh and lumbar support, and side bolsters that can be made as figure-hugging as you wish. It takes a while to find the perfect set-up, but drivers of all shapes and sizes will be able to find a comfortable, supportive driving position. The infotainment system operates via a touchscreen in a similar way to a tablet, with swipe-and-tap controls that will be familiar to anyone that’s used an iPad. It works well, and even if you don’t get on with it, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both come as standard.

Visibility is excellent, with clear views out of the front and rear screens, and big mirrors, so that it's easy to judge the car's dimensions. You don't sit up quite as high as in, say, a Range Rover Sport, but you don't have to climb up to get inside, either. Large windows, a panoramic sunroof (standard on high-end models, but optional on others) and light materials also mean it feels airy and spacious in the XC90. You can even spend extra on making the cabin feel like a Swedish spa, with a variety of wood, leather and metal trim finishes to choose from.

How practical is it? 5/5

The XC90 is one of the most versatile family cars money can buy. It could teach a few MPVs a thing or two about interior space, with room for adult passengers in all three rows of seats. Access to the rearmost pair is a bit tricky, but folding them up and down into the floor is simple, and they are mounted close to the middle of the car to give those in the back a better view. The seats in the middle row recline, fold and slide individually, so that you can rearrange them in whichever way suits you best.

Even with all seven seats up, the boot will still carry some 318 litres of stuff, but fold them down and you’ve got a really massive 1,868 litres available. The loading bay is totally flat, and there is no lip to catch your bags on when swinging them into the boot. If you choose the T8 hybrid version, then there is a little less foot room for the middle passenger in the back, but apart from that the XC90 is near faultless in this area. Only a Land Rover Discovery and Audi Q7 come close to matching the XC90 for versatility and boot volume.

What's it like to drive? 3/5

As standard, the XC90 comes with steel springs, and a simple leaf spring across the rear to save weight and make more space for the boot, seats, and electric motor in the T8. However, we think the optional air suspension is well worth considering, although it's not cheap. With these optional springs fitted, it rides really well, soaking up crests and bumps with ease, and feeling generally smoother and more comfortable than the standard suspension, particularly at low speed. On larger 21-inch wheels, we’ve found that you feel smaller imperfections intrude into the cabin.

There are three different drive settings to choose from - Eco, Comfort and Dynamic - but even in its sportiest mode, there is fair bit of body roll in the corners, especially in the heavy T8 hybrid. Still, for a two-tonne SUV, the XC90 handles well, with positive, consistently weighted steering, and decent grip from the four-wheel drive system. It feels very planted and stable at all times, but puts the emphasis on comfort above all else, so if you’re looking for the sharpest handling big SUV, then a Porsche Cayenne is a better bet.

That’s especially true if you’re minded to go for the T8 plug-in hybrid. This version is a lot heavier than other XC90s, and you can really feel this is the way the car turns and stops. Light pressure on the brake pedal does virtually nothing, and you have to give it a very hard shove to scrub off any significant speed. There’s very little feel through the pedal, too, which further adds to the feeling that the brakes are being overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of the car.

How powerful is it? 4/5

There are four engine choices in the XC90. There’s just the one diesel, called the B5, and it also happens to come fitted with a 48-volt mild hybrid system that makes it more efficient and helps its low-speed responsiveness. With 235 horsepower, it’s a strong performer, with generous grunt right throughout the rev range and a smooth, harmonious relationship with its standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. It does give off a slightly clattery sound, but the noise is well subdued, as are most vibrations from the engine.

There are three petrols, called T5, T6 and T8. The entry-level 250-horsepower T5 is smooth, quiet and generally adequate for everyday motoring, but you’ll have to work it pretty hard if you want to get a move on, as it doesn’t have the effortless grunt of the diesel. The 310-horsepower T6 also needs working to get the best from it, and this can make it feel a little strained, but it does feel pretty quick when you oblige.

The T8 Twin Engine, meanwhile, is a plug-in hybrid that combines a petrol engine (the same 2.0-litre unit as in the T5 and T6) with electric motors to give a combined 390 horsepower and an electric-only driving range of up to 28 miles. It feels extremely brisk, which is signified by a 0-62mph sprint time of just 5.8 seconds, but the switch-like, all-or-nothing character of the power delivery can make it quite difficult to modulate your speed smoothly.

How much will it cost me? 5/5

Compare the most popular XC90 – the B5 – against equivalent versions of rivals like the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE, and it looks like really good value. It’s cheaper to buy than the rest, it depreciates less, it uses less fuel, it’s cheaper to insure and it costs you less to service and maintain. That’s pretty much the full whammy, and it means that over the course of your average ownership period, choosing the Volvo stands to make you a fairly sizeable saving. The lower price and strong residuals will also be useful in keeping down monthly payments for finance customers, while the extra efficiency will prove particularly useful for company car drivers, especially if they go for the plug-in hybrid version.

How reliable is it? 4/5

Volvo has effectively reinvented itself in recent times. Starting with a clean sheet of paper, it has released a raft of newly created models that utilise all-new technology from the ground up. Consequently, we’ll have to wait for quite some time to get some idea as to how reliable they will turn out to be, but the early signs suggest some improvements. The 2019 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study ranked Volvo 10th out of 25 in the overall manufacturer table, and was by far and away the highest-scoring premium manufacturer. Should anything go wrong with your XC60, Volvo offers a fairly standard three-year, 60,000-mile warranty.

How safe is it? 5/5

Few brands take safety as seriously as Volvo does. In fact, it invented the three-point seat belt in 1959, and all the belt buckles in the XC90 are engraved with the date of that breakthrough. Things have moved on since then, and the XC90 comes with some impressive safety gadgets beyond those that helped it to a maximum five-star rating from Euro NCAP. For example, it can detect if the car leaves the road and is about to have a crash, and the seats have a special cushion that absorbs the impact to protect your spine. The brake pedal will automatically retract to avoid knee injuries for the driver, and it also has traction and stability control to prevent an accident in the first place. It has sensors to detect cyclists and pedestrians, and will apply the brakes itself to avoid a collision if required. Lane departure warning, tyre pressure monitors, and traffic sign detection are also standard on every model. Safety options include adaptive cruise control, a self-driving traffic mode, and blind spot monitoring, as part of the Intellisafe pack.

How much equipment do I get? 5/5

Even the cheapest Momentum trim comes loaded with equipment, most of which you would have to pay extra for in the XC90’s rivals. Every model gets at least 19-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav with European maps, rear parking sensors, DAB radio, a powered tailgate, Bluetooth and automatic lights and wipers. Quite the exhaustive list, but if you step up to R-Design trim, then Volvo will add sports seats, bigger wheels and digital instruments. Top-spec Inscription versions get plusher leather, with extra pieces on the dashboard and doors, integrated sun blinds in the back, and electric adjustment for the front passenger seat. Yet even this flagship version is a fair bit cheaper than rivals like the Range Rover Sport, and the XC90 comes with a lot more as standard than either a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. There is a fairly extensive options list, with many of the most appealing items bundled into very tempting packs.

Why buy? 5/5

If you want a family car that can cope with adventure holidays, school runs, trips to the tip and everything in between, the XC90 really does have all bases covered. The hybrid T8 version also makes a superb company car. As an SUV, it offers superb levels of comfort and refinement, oodles of space for up to seven adults, and decent off-road ability. It’s one of the safest cars in its class, very fuel-efficient, good to drive and beautifully made. What’s more, it also looks great and comes better equipped than most of its rivals, with a brilliant infotainment system. In case you hadn’t already guessed, we highly recommend it.

Interested in buying a Volvo XC90?